Monday, April 28, 2008

Do not insult Allah; He is your God too.

04/28/2008 6:38 pm
The icon of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity, Pat Robertson, would not waste a chance to restate that Muslims do not worship the same God that ‘Judeo-Christian’ believer’s do. I am not sure if most Jews agree with his Christian understanding of God, but that has never stopped him and others of the same mindset from making that claim.
To him, Allah is not God. It is just an Arab Muslim Idol. Not only that, but he comes up with whole Hollywood type story about the moon god who has three daughters that Muslims worship (see that and more equally ‘smart’ statements here This nonsense is ear-catching for his target audience, but is just - to put it mildly - stupid; plain and simple.
These statements prove that one may be famous, rich, and influential yet be totally ignorant and do not even know what they are talking about. That, unfortunately does not change the fact that many non-Muslims, especially in North America, that still think the same way, regardless of what they think of Pat Robertson.
Allah is the Arabic word for God (upper case ‘G’). It has its roots in Aramaic, one of the roots of Arabic Language, and has been used many centuries before Islam by Arab Jews and Christians. Not only that, it is the word used for God/Lord (upper case) in the Arabic translations of the Old and New Testament.
Take a look at this example from Genesis ( with the Arabic translation from The words “God” and “Allah in Arabic, الله ” are highlighted:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning-the first.

And for an example from the Gospel of John:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.

Arab Christians use the word “Allah” (meaning God) in their prayers and worship. Many Arab Christians have the name “Abd-Allah”, meaning the “Servant-of-God”, the same name that many Muslims have. The image on the side is the Arabic script for ‘God is Love’, a common saying for Egyptian Christians. Notice the word on the right. It is Allah (for God).
The Arabic language has masculine and feminine forms. Like English, it also has single and plural forms, with a third form for a count of 2 of the same thing. The word Allah in Arabic has a very special status though. It is not defined as masculine or feminine, it exists only in the singular form, and it does not undergo any derivation. Grammatically it is treated as masculine, but it has no inherent gender.
The uniqueness of the word Allah in Arabic may be in part responsible for the occasional use of Allah by Muslims speaking in English, rather than the word God. The word god has multiple forms: upper case, lower case, plural and feminine forms (God, god, gods and goddess). It can be used to describe the absolute divine, but it can be used to describe a teen idol or a music diva. I personally prefer to use the word ‘God’, but I would always remind my listeners that it is the ‘upper case one’.
I know some people may be now thinking: Well, even if it means God it still does not mean that Muslims worship the same God Christians and Jews worship. So here is a brief primer on divinity in Islam.
Islam is a monotheistic religion (defined by some as ‘rigidly’ monotheistic). God in Islam has no form or shape that is amenable to human senses, but his presence can be perceived. Therefore, humans can sense the existence of the Divine, and believe in it. Any attribute of His that may have a human equivalent, is made with no attempt to make analogy or simile to humans.
This is expressed in a very short chapter of the Quran (Ch. 112, 1-4): “SAY: He is the One God: God the Eternal, the Uncaused, Cause of All Being. He begets not, and neither is He begotten; and there is nothing that could be compared with Him”.
In Islam, God is the ultimate abstract idea of a Divine Entity. He has no beginning, and no end. He is the creator of the universe and the sustainer of all that exists. He is the Master of the Day of Judgment. He cares about us, knows what we do, and wants us to succeed in this life, and in the life after.
If someone does not think that this is the God they worship, then that is their concern. As for those who grasped my description of what God means to Muslims, the next time one feels like saying something nasty about “Allah”, they should hold back. It is their God too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Apostacy and Freedom of religion in Islam

04/22/2008 11:52 pm
This posting started as a response to good comments made by 2 readers following my last postings. You can read their comments here and here. I responded to the first under the same posting here, but the second response (by GF) got so long that I preferred to post it as a main entry. Their comments was detailed, documented and challenging. I hope my response clarifies some of the issue.
First, I am surprised that GF would take exception with the Egyptian Grand Mufti’s edict. I would imagine any one worried about Islam being a violent ideology should be happy that the most senior cleric of the most prestigious Islamic University in the world establishes that the proper Islamic response to apostasy (Redda or reversion away from Islam) is not a violent one, but a position of freedom of choice. That should be a solid argument against extremist Muslims who advocate violence. It brings down their position from one of ‘establishing God’s word’ to being ‘in violation of God’s word’.
The Ignoramuses of the world (be they Muslim, Christians, Jews, etc) will continue to do whatever they want no matter what clergy tell them. The moderate majority now knows the violent ones are wrong.
No interpretation of a holy book is considered divine no matter how famous their authors may be. As I mentioned in previous response, all the commentaries and legal interpretations in Islam are tools for those who wish to read them, but they are not God’s word, and denying their correctness or validity, or understanding them in the historic and political context they originated in does not make one an apostate.
I cannot help change the fact that some Muslims understand things differently. Diversity in understanding the Book of Revelations is an example in point on the Christian side. But I look as Holy books this way: God revealed His holy books on chosen Messengers but aiming at lay, mostly illiterate people. The Messengers did not select who followed them, and did not perform any ‘pre-admission’ testing for the believers. And in Islam God, definitely, did not mandate that scholars explain God’s words to His followers.
Actually one of the recurring Quranic criticisms for the early People of the Book (an Islamic term for Christians and Jews) at the time of Quran revelation was that they accepted the interjection of scholars and clergy between God and the believers. Yet, Muslims quickly (i.e., after few decades after the Prophet’s death) fell in the same trap. It is human nature, I guess.
But Islam is truly a lot simpler than most scholars would like us to believe. Unfortunately most believers want to rely on someone else telling them what God wants rather than make some effort on their own.
I was lucky that Arabic as my mother tongue. I can read the Quran easily. I can understand the very vast majority of the verses at face value. It is simple and easy to understand, as God himself promised four times in different verses (54: 17, 22, 32 and 40, “Hence, indeed, We made this Quran easy to bear in mind: who, then, is willing to take it to heart?”) As for the few verses that may have a word or two not in common use today, the overall meaning of the verse is more than obvious if one is too lazy to look up the exact meaning.
I have a strong feeling that GF understands enough Arabic. I suggest to he/her to read the verses mentioned in the comment made, and forget about the ‘famous interpreters’ that GF repeatedly mentioned. They occasionally help, but most of the time, they are just the way. Of course, there are other interpreters (modern and not so modern) who would understand the verses differently, but that makes my point stronger: we all need to do the homework ourselves understanding the original words of God, and we should not take anyone’s interpretation for granted, even if we end up sometimes wrong. Otherwise, taking someone’s else’s words for what God really wants may be convenient, but it makes that person almost ‘God’ for us.
A famous quote from one of the early Scholars (I do not remember exactly which one) was “If you do not know our proof, you should follow our conclusion”.
The reader listed some verses to make his point, and this is where this posting gets a bit technical (and possibly boring) for some readers, so forgive me. But an elaborate comment requires a detailed response.
The reader agreed that verses 6:96 and 4:90-91 are already interpreted by modern scholars in an agreeable way, i.e., punishment for apostasy is in the hereafter, not capital punishment in this life. This is how the text reads in Arabic anyway, so I will skip those.
The verse GF sees as problematic is 2:217. I read the Arabic, and I read the English translation of M Asad, and I see no indication that it carries capital punishment for apostate.
  • “… [Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of the truth - these it is whose works will go for nought in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.”
Clearly, in Arabic as it is in this near literal translation, this is not talking about capital punishment, but about bad outcome on the Day of Judgment. Hell fire has never ever been mentioned in the Quran as a reference to punishment in this life. No commentator, regardless of their prestige or stature can tell other wise.
Regarding Verse 4:89
  • They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have disbelieved, so that you may be all like alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes for the cause of God. If they desert you seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. Look for neither friends nor helpers among them“.
please read the preceding verse (4:88, and subsequent verses 4:90) before making judgment on this verse.
The word ‘they‘ in this verse refers to a group mentioned in the preceding Verse 4:88 as the Hypocrites, a group of Muslims that got in alliance with enemies of Muslims engaging in active acts of war. Finding and killing them was for their act of treason at time of war, not for apostasy
And despite this, the following verse 4:90 gives them the way out of the punishment as it states clearly: arriving and seeking protection with others (Muslims or otherwise) with which Muslims have a covenant OR coming back to the Muslims declaring their desire not to FIGHT Muslims - They were not required to declare their reversion to Islam. If they come back in peace “God does not allow you to harm them
The full text of verse 4:90 is here:
  • “unless it be such [of them] as have ties with people to whom you yourselves are bound by a covenant, or such as come unto you because their hearts shrink from [the thought of] making war either on you or on their own folk - although, if God had willed to make them stronger than you, they would certainly have made war on you. Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them.
I really do not see how anyone would interpret this as mandating capital punishment. If a commentator opted for that for historic or political reasons, this is definitely not binding for us, especially when God made His words so clear and unequivocal.
Verse 5:54 is the ONLY verse that talks specifically about the apostate (Murtadd, or those who abandon their faith as the verse describes them). It does not even mention death in any way:
  • “O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith,’ God will in time bring forth [in your stead] people whom He loves and who love Him - humble towards the believers, proud towards all who deny the truth: [people] who strive hard in God’s cause, and do not fear to be censured by anyone who might censure them: such is God’s favour, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is infinite, all-knowing.”
Let me conclude by some Quran verses that explicitly commit to the freedom of faith. These teach the Prophet, and us, Muslims, how to behave when someone refuses to accept Islam, at any stage. They require no comment from me or anyone else.
  • (2:256) THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error…
  • (3:20) … Ask those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime, as well as all unlettered people, ‘Have you [too] surrendered yourselves unto Him [God]?’ And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away - behold, thy duty is no more than to deliver the message: for God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His creatures.
  • (5:29) … if you turn away [from God’s way], then know that Our Apostle’s only duty is a clear delivery of the message [entrusted to him]
  • (5:99) No more is the Apostle bound to do than deliver the message [entrusted to him]: and God knows all that you do openly, and all that you would conceal.
  • (6:70) And leave to themselves all those who, beguiled by the life of this world, have made play and passing delights their religion
  • (6:107) Yet if God had so willed, they would not have ascribed divinity to aught beside Him;_’ hence, We have not made thee their keeper
  • (9:129) But if those [who are bent on denying the truth] turn away, say: ‘God is enough for me! There is no- deity save Him.
  • (10:99) And [thus it is:] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe,
  • (16:082) BUT IF they turn away [from thee, O Prophet, remember that] thy only duty is a clear delivery of the message [entrusted to thee].
  • (23:117) Hence, he who invokes, side by side with God, any other deity* for whose existence he has no evidence - shall but find his reckoning with his Sustainer: [and,] verily, such deniers of the truth will never attain to a happy state!
A point made by reader Logus referred to early (Mecca) chapters being softer and gentler than later chapters (Medina). It is the same incorrect point made by the Pope while referring to the conciliatory verse 2:256 listed above as being Mecca verse in a speech last year that causes a lot of distress to Muslims. The Pope was wrong as chapter 2 is a chronologically late (Medina) chapter although it is early in the Quran text arrangement, which does not follow chronological order. And so are some of the chapters used above (3, 5 , 6, and 9). Actually chapter 5 is the last long chapter of the Quran and has a special status as the final part of the revealed word of God. So the argument about gentle verses being early in Islam when there were fewer Muslims, while violent chapters came late, after Muslims became numerous enough to fight, is invalid.
All these verse, and many more, stress one key message: people choose whether to believe or not. God did not aim for all people to have the same faith. The Prophet (and his followers) are not to compel anyone to believe. Their job is to deliver the message. The rest, is our own personal choice.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is there room for a Muslim voice in our life?

By Khaled Hamid for the St. Louis Post Dispatch Civil Religion Blog
I believe that my role on this blog [the St. Louis Post Dispatch Civil Religion blog] is to try to present what an American Muslim sees in his religion and how it interacts and coexists with other religions and belief systems. I made it clear from the beginning that I expect it will to be difficult to stay away from politics. It did not take a lot of brains on my part to expect that. I will continue to shy away from explicit political arguments, but it is impossible to avoid it totally as you may have guessed if you have read some of my latest postings and responses to comments by one reader (1, 2).
Our inclinations (likes and dislike) decide for us what we ’select’ to read and what we ’select’ to believe. If we trust our inclinations 100% of the time then we will always pick facts that support our views as further evidence that our views are correct, a circular logic trick. In that case, critical thinking in us dies. And life becomes a process of reinforcing what we have already known and believed. And that is not wise for those who seek the truth.
Google and other search engines are a blessing to humanity, but also a curse if we do not search with equal dedication to test all that we believe in rather than for what proves our predetermined point of view.
My humble advise to those who seek the truth is to make an effort to understand the issues for themselves, rather than take pre-digested opinions to adopt as their own. This stands true whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, republican or democrat. Once you lock yourself in with like-minded people, and take as possibly true only what you knew before as true, then you are on a dangerous slope to being a ‘copy cat’ believer and that has its dangers.
God criticizes in the Quran (5:105) those who say “Enough for us is that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing”. To me, this verse encourages challenging any established dogma in which we believe just because our elders, teachers, clergy or forefathers passed on to us as ‘the truth, the whole truch and nothing but the truth’. I believe that God rewards us more for truth seeking than for truth reaching.
Moreover, a discussion with anyone - blog readers, colleagues or friends - is only worthwhile if the engaging parties start at a point where they are open to new facts so there position is at least modifiable. It also requires some background knowledge of the subject discussed. You are either debating or trying to learn basic facts. It is not very productive to do these in parallel, or in the reverse order.
I am bound, as a Muslim, to be challenged every now and then by vehement opposing opinions. I do encourage those who intend to engage in any discussion about what Islam is (as opposed to what some Muslims do) to read a couple of short essays I wrote relying almost exclusively on Quranic verse. The essays are heavily references and have an accompanying PDF file with all the used Quranic verse.
The essays are not preachy, and I do not expect anyone to accept them as the ultimate truth 9feel free to search for better source and let me no where these are). But I think they will present enough original scriptural material that may come handy if you engage I discussions about Islam. It may also bring to your attention some interesting facts about my religion, and will make it hard for someone to feed you half truth, or straight out lies, passing it as the only truth about Islam. Give it a try.
  1. Islam Q&A introduction and why I composed the essays.
  2. What is Islam?
  3. Islam and social Justice.
  4. Islam, violence and war.
All the Quran verse used in these essays are in one PDf file here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Can you read God’s mind? I know I can’t

The Wrath of GodI woke up early Friday morning to our house shaking. Realizing it was not in a tornado or something that required an immediate evacuation, I thanked God for the safety we were in and tried to go back to sleep. But this strange question popped up in my mind: Were there any gay parade scheduled in a near by city?
Of course, this is not my usual reaction to geological phenomena. It just happened that a couple of months ago I read something linking gays to earthquakes, and I wanted to write a posting about it. The latest realignment of tectonic plates in the Midwest seemed to be the right backdrop for that posting. Here it is.
Religious people feel a strong connection with God. A personal and warm sense of proximity to our creator gives many of us comfort, strength, and enough boost to carry on when the going gets tough. Some people, unfortunately, get a bit too close.
I, like many others, may occasionally feel tempted to gage how much God is happy (or unhappy) with me. If I have a good week at work, is it because God is smiling upon me? If my car breaks down in a very untimely fashion, is it because I did not focus enough on my duties to God?
I think a tiny little bit of that is not bad. Being aware of God’s presence, and that He notices us, is not a bad thing as long as we do not jump to conclusions about Him immediately responding in a divine fashion to every thing we do - that is to say, as long as we do NOT claim we KNOW why God did, or did not do, something to us or to someone else (for example, neighbors’ car stolen because they do not go to church, or a boss deserving a serious heart attack for being mean to his/her employees).
Unfortunately what may be, in a very limited fashion, OK for each of us individually, could become a seriously dangerous thing to do by someones who claims, or are perceived, to have a special connection with God.
Main Street Methodist Church
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Main street Methodist church, Bay St. Louis, MississippiThe images of Hurricane Katrina are in our collective memory, with close to two thousands killed, whole cities destroyed, and hundreds of thousands uprooted from their homes.
But to some, it was not the laws of physics, meteorology and statistics at work. It was a Divine decision to teach us a lesson. Pat Robertson seems to think Hurricane Katrina is related to the legalization of abortion (see video there). He and Jerry Falwell blamed September 11 terrorist attack on abortionists, gays, and the ACLU. John Hagee stated that the hurricane was an act of God, punishing New Orleans for “a level of sin that was offensive to God” and that it was actually meant to disrupt a gay pride parade in New Orleans.
Seven thousand miles away, another ‘man of God’ disagreed with Hagee regarding why God’s wrath descended on the poor people of New Orleans. It was not the gay pride parade. It was the US foreign policy.
“Hurricane Katrina is a punishment meted out by God as a result of U.S. President George W. Bush’s support for the Gaza and northern West Bank disengagement”, Israeli Shas Party spiritual leader and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said.
But when it came to gay people and their impact on the laws of nature, Hagee found an ally in a member of the Israeli parliament from the same Shas party who blamed gays for earthquakes in Israel: “A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes”. That funny statement was the reason behind the weird thought that came to me soon after I felt the quake.
Flawed thinking underlies all these people explaining what God really means when we have a tsunami, a failed space shuttle mission or when tectonic plates find a new position of equilibrium. This is not restricted to Christian or Jewish hyper-religious figures. Similar efforts to read God’s mind occur amongst some Muslim preachers as well. In all of these case, the ‘men of God’ are comfortable telling us that God used nature to send the rest of us a message endorsing the political agenda that they support.
How arrogant of them on one hand, and demeaning to God on the other.
In all the holly books of Abrahamic faiths, God used a lot more reason to persuade us than he used indiscriminate, disproportionate, and actually misdirected forces of nature. The wisdom of God’s actions - be it a natural disaster, a good harvest year, victory or defeat in a war, or simply catching the flu - is impossible to decipher. Could these events, great or small, have a divine reason behind them? Yes, but none of us is capable of reading God’s mind or knowing his specific intent.
The Quran tell a very revealing story about Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, insisting on joining a Holy man to learn a bit of how God works. “May I follow thee on the understanding that thou wilt impart to me something of that consciousness of what is right which has been imparted to thee?” (Quran 18:66). He was warned that it is too difficult for him to fathom, “[The other] answered: ‘Behold, thou wilt never be able to have patience with me for how couldst thou be patient about something that thou canst not comprehend within the compass of [thy] experience?” (Quran 18: 67 & 68).
The story gets more exciting from that point on with the sage killing the child of two God-conscious parents, putting a hole in the boat of orphans that helped the sage and Moses cross a river, and finally the sage helped build a wall for the villagers that were hostile to them. Moses gives up at that point, the sage explains to him the wisdom behind the strange series of deeds and they part (Quran 18:70-82).
If Moses could not understand God’s wisdom of simple everyday events, who are we to claim that we can read God’s mind?
Fellow bloggers and readers: tell me what would be your religious perspective on man reading the mind of God.

Friday, April 11, 2008

“Why would Muslims want to live in America? Why would not Muslim live in Saudi Arabia or some other Muslim country?”

This title reflects the first of 2 good questions posed by one of the readers (who named his/her Centrist) of my first blog posting about finding my Muslim voice. The part I am going to address in this post is quotes below (emphasis in the quote is mine).
“I saw a woman in a West County grocery store the other day with traditional Muslim dress, not a burka, but the only part showing were her eyes. That is fine, I have no objections with her choice.”
“… Our culture is so different in terms of outward sexuality and homosexuality that is so contradictory to the Muslim faith, that I don’t understand why they would not prefer to live in Saudi Arabia or some other Muslim country where they can live more easily which in the norms of their culture and religion.
I have a problem with Muslims coming here and not wishing to assimilate and try to get calls to prayer and footbaths etc. which kind of cross the line of seperation [sic] of church and state in our country.
My first question is, why don’t Muslims just live in Muslim countries and why do they choose to live in America or England where the culture is do different from what their religion espouses? Many of us fear that we will one day be forced to live under Sharia law such as Saudi Arabia or Iran if the Muslims take over our country.”
The reader’s second questions is equally interesting and is about Muslims and why they vote Democrat. Whether this assumption is right or wrong, that question will have to wait for another posting.
But for now, let us tackle the first question. There are a lot of points to cover so I will use almost a point format to cover the different issues raised in the comment:
  • Niqab (Arabic name for attire that covers a womens face) is Not the traditional Muslim dress. It is a dress that some traditional Muslim women wear (although is is admittedly ‘mandatory’ in some societies, especially Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia which are hardly the beacons of democracy, freedom or individuality). We are not all traditional in that sense. Many practicing Muslims women with strong devotion to Islam do NOT wear niqab or burqa (burka is a word derived from a Farsi root). Some of them wear traditional western attire, and some wear a more conservative attire with long sleeves, below knee outfit with or without a head cover (Hijab in Arabic). The latter group would look more or less like many orthodox Jewish women, or catholic nuns (before the change in their dress code in Vatican II). They wear the typical attire that the Virgin Mary, the most revered woman in Islam, is portrayed in.
  • And why should it be assumed that a Muslim has somewhere else to go and live. This statement is based, assuming best of intentions, on ignorance. Half of the American Muslims are ‘real’ Americans, born and raised here to American parents that may have been Muslims, Christians, Jews or atheists. Some are Black, White, Hispanic or of Middle Eastern and Indian ancestry. But some are of German, Irish or Chinese ancestry amongst many other possibilities. They did not chose to come to America. God created them here. They have no where else to go to, Muslim country or otherwise. And even if they do have another country to go to, why should they? Do we expect a Muslim born in this country to a Muslim family, or who has converted to Islam as an Adult, to leave America and look for another homeland just for the dress code?
  • A homeland is more than place with a dress code that I like. The culture that defines someone by how they dress is a very shallow culture, and our American culture, mine and yours, is not shallow. That is why many people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, come to America. Moreover most of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, disagree with the society at large on one or more intellectually or practically pivotal issues. Take for example abortion, same sex marriage, the war in Iraq, affirmative action, universal health care, or even home schooling. Is there anyone out there who is willing to leave there homeland if the law of the land is opposite to their choice for a way of life? Should I assume that the reader Centrist would have to go and live in Denmark if his/her dress code is more on the nudist side; or to somewhere else where abortion is still criminalize if they were anti-abortion? People are not defined by one issue, neither should a homeland, especially by something as trivial as dress code.
  • Centrist also has a problem with Muslims coming here and not wishing to assimilate and try to get calls to prayer and footbaths etc‘. Without belaboring the point, I will restate that half of the American Muslims have not come here - they were born here.
  • Assimilation deserves some comment. Every time I here it in this context it reminds me of the ‘Borg hives’ on Star Trek. The goal was “assimilating all species by incorporating their knowledge and technology into one Borg super collective”. None of us would ever desire to be part of that super powerful society for a simple reason: individuals lost their uniqueness, that is ‘the quality of being one of a kind’, i.e., different in some ways. Assimilation that does not retain the individuals identity is not only evil; it is doomed to failure in the long run.
  • And, on the legal side of this, if a municipality accommodates some Muslim communities and issues a permit for a mosque to have the call to prayer, that is the municipality’s right (although I am not aware of any that did this in Missouri). If the council of elders is democratically elected, and feels comfortable giving their OK to that, then that is the stance they would like to face voters with in the next election. And that is called democracy in action.
  • I am not even sure the reader Centrist is using that term “separation of church and state” correctly. Church bells ring every Sunday, and that is not violating the separation of church and state. The first amendment of the US Constitution states that “… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. For a private business to make a free-will decision to establish footbaths for their Muslim clients, or employees, because the business owners feel morally good about being inclusive, or because it is good for their business, is a far cry from violating what the constitution enshrined in the first amendment. Any constitutional lawyer amongst the readers to chip in??
On a rather personally note, I am not a supporter of a dress code that covers the face. A big part of an individual’s identity is in the face. I am even sure I would not know how to communicate with someone covering their face. That is not just from the security point of view, but for many other practical reasons. The face communicates a lot more than words. My early medical training was in a Egypt at a time when some medical student started wearing niqab. The dean of medical school was decisive about it. If you wear a niqab, you were not allowed to get on the medical school campus. I am not aware of any women students that left medical school because of that. Niqab is not mandatory according to the very vast majority of Muslim scholars. It is actually forbidden during the most sacred of all Muslim events, Pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque in Mecca. It is still a very uncommon practice outside Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia were is it a dominant cultural habit to many, not a religious tradition. And therefore, many women stop wearing it when they are out of those countries.
Even in Iran, it is becoming less and less popular. For passports, drivers license, security Ids, and in courts of law the face must always show. If one woman wants to wear it in a West County grocery store, and the store does not have a problem with it, who am I to stop them?
Do I want wearing Niqab or burqa to be the law of the land for women here? NO.
The bottom line is this: this is a society where the rule of the law is king. If it is legal no one should expect others to change just to please the rest of us. But if Centrist’s argument is that this is a Christian Nation, and that only Christians should decide how it is run, then that is a violation of the first amendment. And that can be a topic for another post.
[Note: The reader Centrist, in a second comment expressed deep unhappiness and disappointment that I did not respond right away to the comment. Since I am not a full time blogger or a journalist, and I am a full time professional, I will rarely be able to respond right away to comments (except to the most simple of questions). Other readers are welcome to participated in the discussion and have a dialog go on, but I will not oblige myself to respond in a particular time frame.Blogging is NOT about instant response. That is called instant messaging. I would rather take my time posting something that I put some thought into, than to response in a haste with a half-cooked one and a half sentences. Other bloggers may have the talent to do that and produce something good. This blogger does not. Sorry if anyone is disappointed. Khaled]